Dying to Borrow
by Avrohom Birnbaum
It was just a casual conversation with an old friend. Commenting on the fact that I could not believe that Rosh Hashanah and the Yomim Noraim were around the corner, I wistfully recalled the spiritually uplifting, intense Elul that we experienced in yeshiva. Despite what Rav Yisroel Salanter used to say, that “The whole year should be like Elul, but Elul is still Elul,” no place can rival a yeshiva during the month of Elul. The days of Elul in a yeshiva affords one a special closeness to Hashem and an intense ruchniyusdike experience.
“Debts?” I asked. “What debts?”
We sat down together and tried to plan a strategy to somewhat alleviate the crushing burden. It soon became clear that every month, he was paying the minimum balance or a bit more on his credit card just to keep the creditors at bay, but meanwhile, the interest was making it impossible for him to emerge from his perpetual state of debt. [It is great to have well meaning people sit down and coach those in a dire prediciment. However, is there a frum credit counseling agency? It seems like this is a void that needs to be filled. . . and fast! I often hear commercials for Christian agencies that specialize in credit counseling. I wish I had the know how to start a frum credit counseling agency].
I asked him why he does not borrow from interest-free gemachs to pay off his balances and then make a payment plan with the gemach. “It may take time, but eventually you might even be debt free,” I said. My friend replied, “The gemachs are a pain. They only lend you a certain amount and you must get co-signers. The whole thing is so embarrassing.” [Interest free loans can help, but a financial overhaul an absolute must if someone remain debt free].
long-term loans is a very troubling development.
Jews have reached an amzing level of affluence, residing in the benevolent golus in which we live. This affluence has enabled Yiddishkeit to flourish. Beautiful mosdos haTorah have been built and are sustained, and post-marriage kollel learning has become a norm. [I don't expect the Yated to draw the connection between kollel learning as a norm and the reliance on credit, home equity loans, etc. But, it doesn't take a financial expert to draw the connection].
Many less than-affluent people seek to show that they also belong to this elite club, putting pressure on themselves to build status symbol houses and make status symbol weddings, etc. The massive mortgages, the constant pursuit of money, combined with the increased work load and work hours, wreak havoc on families. Parents are so busy trying to earn money that, inevitably, their children and shalom bayis are neglected. [It is shocking that tuition was not mentioned].
One of the most troubling developments over the past several years is the increased reliance on credit cards by segments of our tzibbur. According to prominent askonim, in both America and Israel, the number of families in our communities who live on plastic and revolve large sums of money from one credit card to another has reached dangerous proportions. [!]
Chazal tell us that paying interest is like getting bitten by a snake. The snake bite is tiny, but its venom slowly envelopes the entire body, eventually killing the person. When a person starts leaving a balance, even a small balance, on a credit card, he may soon be doomed to a life of constant debt, bankruptcy and, challila, geneiva. [Emphasis added].
Plastic gives a false sense of security, practically empowering a person to buy something without knowing how he will pay for it. It allows one to pretend that he is also one of the affluent, even though he is not.
Parents put themselves into debt buying clothing for their children, because the child is embarrassed to be dressed in a “shmatta” if a classmate is bedecked in a fancy, name-brand outfit or suit. [I would pin the embarrassment as much on the parent as the child. When we are in certain communities, we see even babies, infants, and preschoolers dressed in dry clean designer European clothing. Last I checked, preschoolers are happy to make a choice between two to three items the parent has picked out. The "minhag" of matching Yom Tov outfits for all girls, and even coordinating outfits for the boys, is just plain wasteful, and yet nearly every family that is more to the right partakes of this minhag, even those who I know really shouldn't. This is probably one of the most wasteful things seen in the frum community].
If we want to have yishuv hadaas to serve Hashem; if we want to have the necessary time to learn, daven or prepare for Rosh Hashanah; If we want time to spend time educating our children, learning with our children, playing with our children and not agonizing over new money-making schemes to repay ever growing debts, we must learn how not to spend what we don’t have…even if it makes us socially uncomfortable. [Still no mention of tuition].
In the event that a person is absolutely compelled to borrow money, l’maan Hashem, it is not advisable to borrow from credit card companies whose venomous interest can kill. It is preferable to do all one possibly can to borrow from interest-free sources. Kinah kills.